Imagine it’s Christmas morning. You wake up, and head straight to the living-room tree. Under its green branches is a bright yellow Mercedes-AMG GT sports car, with your name on it.

And you’re only 3 years old.

This is no ordinary Mercedes, even though electric braking, power steering, leather seating and spring shock absorbers come standard.

While this four-foot-long E.V. may technically be a toy — it sells for $400, destination charges included — the single-seater convertible is licensed by Daimler to Moderno Kids. The battery drives the wheels (they light up!) to a top speed of 4 miles an hour. A touch screen in the dash displays videos and plays music. The “headlights” are LEDs, just like those in Mom’s or Dad’s $70,000 Benz.

Ride-on vehicles — a toy category that includes cars, trucks, tractors and the occasional front-loader — are aimed at a wide swath of boys and girls, ranging in age from 1 year to 6 and even older. When it comes to power, their six- or 12-volt battery can be recharged with a household plug. Range anxiety? Only if they leave the subdivision.

“Kids mainly want to be like grown-ups, and grown-ups have cars,” said Heather MacKenzie of BestReviews, where she assesses dozens of children’s toys and even drives a few. “But beyond that, these toys represent a degree of independence. They let the little ones keep up with the bigger kids. It evens the playing field when everybody’s on wheels.”

And they are a big business for the toy industry. In the category that includes electric and pedal ride-on toys (but not bicycles), annual revenues are about $625 million, according to the NPD Group. And for the brands that license their names to these products, there are benefits as well.

They’re not necessarily financial: Licensing royalties paid to Daimler Mercedes on a $400 ride-on might amount to 5 percent of the wholesale price, or about $10, said Andrew Topkins of Brandgenuity, a licensing agency in New York.

“If they’re selling thousands of these cars, the amounts are not insignificant,” Mr. Topkins said. “But it’s more a marketing thing.”

What Mercedes, Jeep and Ford, among others, care more about is: “Does this do something for us that is a value to promulgate the brand?” said Martin Brochstein, senior vice president of Licensing International.

“It’s the beginning of building a relationship with the child,” he added. “And from the parent’s perspective, it’s ‘Hey, I’m able to give my kid a Mercedes.’ In that sense, it connects the adults to the brand even more tightly.”

Basic pedal-powered or push-powered rides sell for less than $100. At the luxury end, consider a Jaguar gasoline-powered “car” from F.A.O. Schwarz for $10,000. But the Jag is far and away the exception; most of the electric products, sold through stores including Walmart and Target and from Amazon online, cost $300 to $400.

Historically, before Louis Marx came along in the 1960s, a tricycle was just a tricycle: a red Radio Flyer was the standard. It was sort of clunky, and it rusted if you left it in the rain (and we all did).

Then the designers at Mr. Marx’s toy company reverse-engineered the common trike and flipped it. The Big Wheel sharply lowered the rider’s center of gravity so that he or she didn’t flip off the triangular perch on sharp turns. The molded plastic body and “tires” helped cushion the ride, the materials were fairly durable, and the low-to-the-ground illusion of speed enthralled kids.

After the Marx company went out of business in 1985, others took over the name, even as many toymakers rode the Big Wheel craze by churning out copies. The colorful three-wheeler was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame a decade ago. These days, an original Big Wheel sells for up to $200.

While some parents consider ride-on toys a rather innocuous excursion for tots, others take a different view.

“Electric toy vehicles are much more than mindless playthings,” said Neve Spicer, founder of We the Parents, another website that reviews gear for children. For example, electric ride-ons, she said, “can offer rich learning opportunities, especially in the hands of a parent who is mad about mechanics and is willing to safely explore under the bonnet.

“Then,” she added, “kids can learn some serious engineering and electronics in a very fun way.”

Parker Ouimet of Rochester, N.Y., has no trace of Mercedes envy, because his orange Kid Trax ride-on mower is the same color as the one his father, Eric, owns. “I wanted a tractor just like Dad’s and I got one,” exclaimed Parker, who is 2.

But it’s not just a guy thing, Ms. Spicer said. “A battery-powered ride-on car has a magical ability to bond father and daughter,” she said. “First, he gets to watch his little princess driving a mean-looking pickup. Then he gets to teach her about getting more torque out of her six-volt set of wheels.”

Ms. MacKenzie, of BestReviews, said: “I love that toys are becoming genderless. And marketed to both genders. Girls are just as much a part of this as boys.”

Besides the Moderno Mercedes, here’s a look at a couple of children’s wheels offerings for this season. Be assured that most will fit under a tree, but they probably won’t stay there long.

Power Wheels Jurassic Park Jeep Wrangler (ages 3 to 7, $300). Does your 1983 diesel Rabbit make dinosaur sounds? So does this stylish Jeep, but in this case that’s part of the fun. The Jeep can maneuver on grass as well as hard surfaces, carry a couple of passengers with a weight limit of 130 pounds and reach a top speed of 5 m.p.h. It stops automatically when Junior lifts off the “gas.” Did we mention it makes dinosaur sounds as well?

Ambosstoys Primo (ages 1 to 5, $160). Miss the Italian Vespa scooter you coveted when Vespa scooters were in fashion? Here’s a chance to hand down that vision in a simple, classic ride-on: No pedals, no power, just get rolling with the push of a pair of small legs. These sturdy, metal ride-ons are hand welded, with plastic “whitewall” wheels, and designed for single riders up to 44 pounds. It’s basic transportation, kids-style.

Kettler/Rolly Toys John Deere Loader with backhoe (ages 3 to 6, $340). This ride-on is made in Germany, which might be enough to sway some parents into choosing it. With its oversize tires and tough plastic resin body, this machine looks the part of a serious workhorse.

PlasmaCar by PlaSmart (ages 3 and up, about $70). A rather ingenious take on the no-frills ride-on: Just twist, turn and wiggle the steering wheel to attain a modest adrenaline surge as PlasmaCar (a rather odd name, no?) kicks up to 6 miles an hour. If Gramps can entice little Greta to let him borrow it, the toy will accommodate a weight of up to 220 pounds.

Here are some caveats before investing in a ride-on, according to Ms. MacKenzie.

Safety: There are no governmental safety standards for these toys; before turning over the “keys,” parents are advised to dress youngsters in bike helmets and supervise their travels. Some electric ride-ons come with remotes that allow some form of parental control.

Age: “We think 3 years is the minimum for an electric ride-on. It may not go fast, but it feels fast to a little kid.”

Size and rider weight: These are important considerations — the child’s feet must be able to reach the pedals comfortably. Most ride-on products list recommended ages and weights, and whether the toy accommodates more than one rider.

Ruggedness: “We consider the ability of a toy to go over a variety of surfaces. Kids are hard on this stuff, they yank them around, they pull the steering column if they get stuck.”

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